This is post is from our intern Jameson Ondrof. He’s really learned a lot from us this semester.
Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy? I had to ask multiple friends to pinch me on Sunday just to confirm that Saturday night actually happened.
Just let it sink in for a moment longer.
No one, and I mean no one, saw that coming, and that certainly makes it all the sweeter. All of the chatter in the days leading up to this game revolved around whether an inconsistent USC team could put the flashes of talent together against a Notre Dame team that has been nothing if not consistent this season. But note that the talk was all about USC, with Notre Dame serving as the foil who lurks off stage.
Well, after a performance like Saturday’s, Notre Dame will no longer be denied a spotlight they’ve earned the hard way this season. The Irish re-entered the AP top 10 for the first time since the opening weekend of the 2016 season, but this group could not be further removed from the squad that was about to embark on a 4-8 season. An offense that relishes stuffing the ball down the opponents’ throat, and an opportunistic defense that has thrived upon creating chaos has made this the most enjoyable Notre Dame team to watch since I set foot on campus.
And yes, that includes the 2012 team, because as many of you remember, nothing about the games against Pitt, Purdue, or BYU could be classified as “enjoyable.”
When Joe last gave me a break from fetching him whiskey neats straight from the bar at Corby’s, we were just coming off the Georgia loss. The vibe around this team feels a lot different now. While we may not make the Playoff (looking at the remaining schedule gives me an ulcer every time), there’s no doubt that there’s an optimism and electricity in the air around South Bend right now, which has replaced a sense of stagnation that could be felt over the past couple of years.
This team has made us dream again. And I think that’s all we really had a right to want from this season.
Now for a few observations regarding the game on Saturday:
1. I’m in love with this defense. Those were words I never thought I’d say again as a Notre Dame football fan after last year’s debacle, but this defense has put up performances that are everything you could want from a college team. They continue to play smart, fast, and loose, and most importantly, they seem addicted to the energy they create when they force a turnover. Special shout out to Te’Von Coney and Julian Okwara, who are making a lot of plays each weekend, while guys like Drue Tranquill and Shaun Crawford (deservedly, I will say) get the spotlight.
2. Josh Adams is a special player. Enjoy it while it lasts, ND fans because I certainly couldn’t blame him if he heads to the NFL after this season. Maybe, just maybe, someone at ESPN will wake up and notice that he has better rushing numbers in almost every category than Saquon Barkley, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. If he keeps this up, he will definitely have earned a spot in the room in New York City come December.
3. I have to apologize for castigating the offensive line in my last post. Other than the game against Georgia, they have been unbelievable all year. Watching some of the holes they’ve been able to open up against teams as talented on defense as USC, Michigan State, and Boston College has been a real treat. Notre Dame’s continued success to finish out this season will rely upon them continuing to do the same thing against a lot of good opponents.
4. Brandon Wimbush is a living, breathing embodiment of the importance of a dual threat quarterback in the college game today. He absolutely has to continue to progress as a passer (9/19 isn’t going to cut it against some of the opponents we’ll face down the stretch), but the options that he creates with his athleticism make the offensive line and the running back corps even more effective. Additionally, I’ll never get tired of watching him put a USC defender on skates.
5. Kevin Stepherson could be a godsend for this offense. His ability as a burner at the wide receiver spot can open up a lot of room for the likes of Equanimeous St. Brown and Alize Mack to operate underneath. Additionally, even more than the rest of the team, he’s playing like he has something to prove. The addition of another dynamic playmaker to this offense at this point in the season could kick them to a higher level just when they need it most.
6. Out of the remaining games, this weekend’s upcoming game against NC State scares me the most. People have overlooked them with Miami and Stanford still to come on the schedule. While Miami may have the highest rank for a remaining opponent and Bryce Love is putting up ridiculous numbers for the Cardinal, neither of those teams seem to have strengths that counter Notre Dame’s strengths as precisely as the Wolfpack. They have a ferocious front four on defense and their offense doesn’t make mistakes. It’s going to be an absolute battle in the trenches, and I fully expect this game to be the closest one that Notre Dame has played since the Georgia game.
Go Irish, Beat Wolfpack.